Sort file:- Malling, September, 2023.

Page Updated:- Saturday, 16 September, 2023.


Sept 1939

Startled Saint

Closed 1990+


West Malling

Startled Saint 1980

Above photo circa 1980.

Startled Saint 1988

Above photo 1988, from Phillippa Hoad.

Startled Saint

Above photo date unknown.

Startled Saint sign 1946

Above photo, circa 1946, taken by Geoffrey William Tanner.

Startled Saint sign 1963

Above sign, 1963, kindly sent by Jeremy Laws.

Startled Saint sign 1980s

Above signs 1980s. Showing a ring of spitfires flying around his head.

Startled Saint sign 1991Startled Saint sign 1991

Above signs 1991.

With thanks from Brian Curtis

Startles Saint metal card 1950sStartled Saint card 1949

Above aluminium card issued May 1949. Sign series 1 number 21.

Alice Baker

Above photo showing  Alice Baker, her husband and daughter behind the bar. Kindly sent by Jenny Callagher.


Information from

Thanks to the landlady, I know the tale. It was designed and built in 1939 as a sister to the "Duke Without a Head" outside Wateringbury.

Unusual in that the cellar was at first floor level and the beer drained to taps set in dummy cask heads set in the back fitting. The wife of the couple that took it on from day one was still there until about 1978. She still had some of the original glasses engraved with the pub name which a chosen few were allowed to use. (Being engraved was according to her a legal requirement during the war.) I think her name was Annie, she retired and the pub was taken over by a guy who had had the pub at Bean. He carried out masses of alterations and tried to build up a restaurant trade but it never quite took off. I think there were another couple of short term tenants then Whitbread de licensed it.

The sign is the original as far as I know, probably painted at Wateringbury Brewery. It must have been a Whitbread pub from opening as the cask heads (one of which I got when the alterations were going on were branded Whitbread and all 1938 or 39. I think the brewery banner at the top of the sine did get changed to Fremlins at one time. The Landlady's brother-in-law had the "Rising Sun" in East Malling and had the dubious distinction of being knocked over by a billygoat and stamped on resulting in his death about a week later.

In my service engineer days I used to call on both houses. Pub signs then were made of copper or aluminium sheet and the design drawn on, it was then marked out using a punch so that subsequent repaints could be done by anyone - virtually painting by numbers. The artist may well have been a John Cooke who ran the sign-writing dept about that time.



From an email received, 6 April 2018.

Alice Baker, the landlady for c.40 years, claimed the pub opened on the same day that war was declared in September 1939.

The "Startled Saint" was the local pub for the aircrews and ground staff stationed at RAF West Malling both during and after WW2. Amongst many famous customers, perhaps the best known was Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC who led the famous Dam Busters Raid in May 1943. The "Startled Saint" survived the closing of RAF West Malling in the 1970s but not the poor management of various licensees who ran it after Alice Baker retired.

Part of the problem was that the "Startled Saint" was remotely located, on St. Leonard's Street, about a mile SW of West Malling village.

It closed c.1990. The famous pub sign depicts St Leonard being startled by 5 low flying Spitfires buzzing his head!


Project 2014 has been started to try and identify all the pubs that are and have ever been open in Kent. I have just added this pub to that list but your help is definitely needed regarding it's history.

As the information is found or sent to me, including photographs, it will be shown here.

Thanks for your co-operation.


From the By Alan Smith, 22 January 2019.

The former Startled Saint pub in West Malling to be demolished for houses.

A former pub that once served pints to Dambusters leader Guy Gibson is to be pulled down to make way for homes.

Tonbridge and Malling council has granted planning permission for the demolition of a large house at the junction of Teston Road and Kings Hill in West Malling, and its replacement with five new homes.

The building, home to Richard and Pauline Neve, was once The Startled Saint pub and had a unique connection to West Malling’s Second World War history.

Guy Gibson and 617 squadron

Guy Gibson (centre) and others of 617 Squadron.

It opened on December 16, 1940, and had the same landlady, Alice Baker, until 1978. The Whitbread pub was a sister to the Duke Without A Head in Wateringbury and was designed by the same architect.

Because of its proximity to the RAF station at what is now the Kings Hill estate, it was popular with both pilots and ground crew.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, the leader of the 1943 Dambusters raid, was a regular, as was John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham.

In his book “Enemy Coast Ahead” Gibson wrote: “... that night we stood by, but the weather was bad, and the Group released the squadron at about nine. Down to the Startled Saint we went, complete with ground crews, to sample the beer, it was good and everyone was happy.”

Group Capt Cunningham was a fighter ace who shot down at least 20 enemy aircraft – many at night. To fool the Germans, his success was attributed to a diet of carrots that had improved his eyesight – in fact it was due to the new system of airborne radar that he was trialling for the RAF, operated by his air-gunner Jimmy Rawnsley, who also drank at the Startled Saint.

It is not known if Group Captain Peter Townsend ever propped up the bar at the Startled Saint, but it seems likely. Townsend was Station Commander at West Malling in 1943. He later became equerry to King George VI, and was later perhaps better known for his affair with The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret.

The Startled Saint had a distinctive sign – the head of St Leonard being “buzzed” by a halo of five Spitfires.

The last pint was pulled in 1992. The site will now become five two-storey five bedroom homes. Two will have detached double garages with a games room over, two will have balconies.



BAKER Alice 1939-78


If anyone should have any further information, or indeed any pictures or photographs of the above licensed premises, please email:-